The firm says the way meats and seafood are being produced and consumed currently is unsustainable, claiming there is misrepresentation, contamination, overuse of antibiotics and hormones.
Shiok Meats CEO and co-founder Dr Sandhya Sriram told FoodNavigator-Asia: “The need for disruption in the food and meat industry is crucial and Shiok Meats is disrupting the seafood industry by growing seafood in the lab.
“Shiok Meats is a cell-based clean meat company, exclusively working on seafood. [We are] the first cell-based meat company in Singapore and South East Asia, and we employ cellular agriculture to grow seafood meat in the laboratory using cells instead of animals.
“Shiok in Singapore English slang basically means fantastic and enjoyable.”
In line with this, Sriram claims that the company’s meats are animal-, health- and environment-friendly with the ‘same taste, texture and nutrients, but no cruelty’.
“Our mission is to bring delicious and healthy meat by harvesting from cells instead of animals,” she added, referring to herself and Shiok Meats CTO and co-founder Dr Ka Yi Ling.
At present, the company’s products are still in the R&D phase, but they aim to go commercial within the next one or two years.
“[We] will be producing seafood commercially for consumption by 2020/2021,” said Sriram.
“Shiok Meats' target market is Asia-Pacific and USA. [Within the APAC region, we are particularly looking at] Hong Kong, India, China and Australia.”
Making cell-based meat products available for more
Taking into account the current high market price of cell-based meat, Shiok Meats is looking at targeting the high-end food service market in its initial launch before moving towards more general availability.
“Since the cost of cell-based meat currently is quite high, the market that we will cater to now is mostly in the high-end restaurants and for gastronomical experiences,” said Sriram.
“We are constantly working towards reducing our costs and eventually our meats will be available for everyone's consumption i.e. supermarkets, grocery stores etc.
“We foresee [that] frozen, ready-to-eat fillets and dumplings will be most popular with customers.”
That said, the status of regulations surrounding cell-based meats in the Asia Pacific region is currently still at a very initial, very uncertain stage.
Australian State Agricultural Minister Jaala Pulford told the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘there are currently no policies or regulations around cultured meat’, whereas an Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) Singapore representative only said that it was ‘exploring and meeting with several relevant companies’ with regard to this during a recent food industry event.
The United States has seen some regulatory progress for cell-based products. In a joint statement by Food and Drug Agency (FDA) commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary Sonny Perdue, a ‘joint regulatory framework’ was announced last year.
“[FDA will oversee] cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry,” it said.
Why cell-based meat?
By using cellular agriculture in contrast to traditional seafood rearing methods, Shiok Meats also looks to provide an alternative, self-sustainable source of seafood to the industry.
“[This] will be a reliable source that helps Singapore and food distributors take a step in self-sustainability in terms of food production,” said Sriram.
“For food distributors, they will no longer be reliant on farms and wild fishing, which is easily affected by diseases and weather. For consumers, we will be provided with a choice to select seafood [of which] we know the specific species, country of origin, and conditions of production.”
Looking beyond this, cell-based meats are also an obvious option for those who are averse to animal cruelty, and Sriram added that they also intend to provide an allogenic options for those with crustacean/shellfish allergies.
Cell-based meats vs traditional meats vs plant-based meats
In response to queries on whether cell-based meats could eventually replace traditional meats, Sriram said: “In our opinion, yes, cell-based meat will replace "traditional" meat - but probably in 10 or 15 years’ time.
“[We] are not going to have enough meat or enough fish in the sea to feed the world if produced in the traditional way. We are moving towards the correct direction of employing cellular agriculture for meat production.”
As for plant-based meats, she added that the target audience cell-based meats are looking at is different.
“To address the many issues of food production, we need various options for consumers. […] Meat eaters still want meat, despite all the benefits conceived from being vegetarian.
“Cell-based meats provide an alternative where consumers can still have meat but are not harming the animals, environment or their health.”
Challenges and the way forward
Sriram acknowledged that similar to many start-ups, at present some of the most pressing issues they face are local funding and infrastructure
“Being the pioneer cell-based meat company in Singapore, we have face difficulties in seeking local funding and infrastructure,” she said.
“There are no facilities currently available for shared biotech equipment and a rental incubator space in Singapore for independent startups like us.
“Further, as cell-based meats is new to consumers and investors, there is fervent interest in our work, but none have been willing to invest in our early journey – most of our investment/funding is from the US and other countries in Asia.”